This is the best time in history to be making music. With all the advances in technology, everything you need to make music is affordable and at your fingertips. But with all the options available, you may not know what you need to get started.
There are 5 key components that go into building the basic home studio.
1. A Computer
If you’re just starting out, rather than investing money into a computer solely for studio work, begin with your laptop or family computer. The only thing that you should know is that as you become a better producer or engineer, you will need to use that computer more often, and so sharing it with a family member or roommate might not be a good idea.
Debating PC vs Mac is useless. There are many top level producers and engineers that use both platforms. Stick with what you already know. It is also a good idea to learn to troubleshoot computer issues for you system too. You do not want be in the middle of a project and find yourself unable to work.
The things that you should make sure you have are storage and memory. Computers come in all shapes and sizes, but a quick glance at the system requirements for every DAW out there and you will see that 4GB of RAM is the minimum and 8GB is recommended. Additionally you need to have enough storage to keep your projects on, and back them up.
I recommend that you always record to a second hard drive. Let your computer’s operating system reside on the system drive, and if you’re using a tower, install a second internal drive for recording too. If you’re using a laptop, get yourself a an external USB drive for recording. Finally, if you’re working on projects for clients, get another hard drive to keep as a redundant backup. You do not want to go through the experience of explaining to a client how their song got lost due to a damaged drive.
2. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Many people are quite passionate about the Digital Audio Workstation or DAW that they use for music creation. The truth is that you can use any of them. Just the same as the PC or the Mac debate, find what works for you. Once you find a DAW that you like, learn as much about it as you can. The more features and keyboard shortcuts that you learn the faster your workflow will become.
Learning your DAW will also help you come up with your own creative workflows. As you get more comfortable you will find you own ways of doing things that will be unique too you. This will help you use your DAW like an extension of the music making process and keep it from getting in the way and slowing you down.
3. Audio Interface
The Audio interface market is saturated with great products. This is great news for you because you WILL be able to find what you need without spending an arm and a leg! The difficult part is choosing because every gear manufacturer out there wants your dollar.
The secret to choosing comes from understanding your specific needs. Do you want to record and produce rock music? Then at some point you may want to record a set of drums. This should point you in the direction of getting at least 4 but probably more like 8 inputs with mic preamplifiers.
Conversely, if you plan on getting finished songs to mix from other producers and engineers, then you might only need an interface with 1 or 2 inputs. An interface like the Audient ID14 is affordable, has a couple of inputs, a nice ergonomic layout, and room for future expansion over ADAT.
If you can only get one microphone then start with a large diaphragm condenser mic. There are many affordable mics that are under $300 from Lewitt, Rode, and Shure that will get you started and sound great on many sources. A condenser mic is going to extend in the high frequencies a little more than a dynamic microphone and will give things like piano, vocals and acoustic guitar the shimmer they need. An affordable condenser can also sound very good on electric guitar amplifiers or as a mono overhead on a set of drums.
If you can afford 2 microphones then next mic you should consider is something dynamic like the Shure SM57, Audix i5 or the Lewitt MTP 440. All 3 of these microphones are $99 new and sound fantastic on loud sources like a guitar amp or a snare drum. A dynamic mic can sound good on almost any source and is very utilitarian.
Finally, you need a way to hear what you are recording or mixing. So, how do you choose the right speakers? A quick glance at retail website will show you dozens of brands offer speakers that are available at all price points.
First, it’s important to choose speakers that are the right size for you room. If you’re in 10×12 bedroom, you’ll like not benefit from the extended low end that an 8” driver will give you. A more practical choice would be something like the IK Multimedia iLoud speakers or the Genelec 8010A’s. Both of these speakers sound great, and are great for mixing in a small room. You may want to pair those up with a good set of headphones that you are familiar with so you can take note of the differences in your mix between headphones and speakers.
A second reason to have a good set of headphones (or 2) is that when it comes time to record an artist they can monitor the click track or the guide track that they are playing along to. If you’re in a one room studio, you as the engineer will also need a set of headphones so that you can mute your speakers and still monitor the artists performance.
Thank you for reading and remember, don’t let anyone stop you from making music. Use what you have and make great music! If you want more information about this topic, please watch our recent Q&A video where talked for over and hour and half about the 5 key components for building a home studio.